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From salads to stews, no shortage of ways to prepare artichokes

| Tuesday, March 5, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Artichoke and Farro Salad. Despite the fact they look so unquestionably inedible, there is no shortage of ways to cook artichokes. Glenn Koenig/Los Angeles Times/MCT
Artichoke, bacon and new potato hash. Despite the fact they look so unquestionably inedible, there is no shortage of ways to cook artichokes. Glenn Koenig | MCT

Someone recently asked if I knew a good way to prepare artichokes.

It stopped me cold.

“A” good way? Only one? Which one? Do you want artichokes by themselves?

Do you want artichokes as an ingredient? Do you want them cooked, or do you want them raw?

Too many choices.

Despite the fact they look so unquestionably inedible, there is no shortage of ways to cook artichokes.

In fact, just talking about them for a couple of minutes got me so hungry I went home and prepared an all-artichoke dinner. That may sound strange. The vast majority of artichokes are consumed only one way: boiled or steamed and served with drawn butter or flavored mayonnaise. And, certainly, there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.

The only problem is believing that that's where artichokes end. There's a lot more to the artichoke than you might have thought. Granted, there are a few things you need to be aware of when you're cooking them. Artichokes take some preparation, to be sure. And, don't leave out the step of periodically dipping them in acidulated water, or they'll turn dark and rusty (it's ugly, but not harmful, a result of the same kind of enzymatic browning that occurs to a lesser extent in a wide range of fruits and vegetables, including apples, potatoes and bananas).

Maybe the most important thing to remember, though, is to pass by those big old artichokes you used to use for steaming (growers call them “hubcaps”) and choose instead either medium-size or baby chokes. These are different from the big guys only in size, not in maturity or flavor.

A typical artichoke plant will produce one or two hubcaps, a half-dozen or so mediums and even more “babies.” So, the big chokes are not only the most commonly used, they're also the most scarce, and that adds up to a high price. You can usually find the smaller chokes at a fraction of the cost (around 75 cents each for medium size, as opposed to three bucks or more for the largest).

So, what do you do with these little artichokes? They're great simply glazed as a side dish: Quarter them, put them in a skillet with just enough water to cover the bottom and a good glug of olive oil; cook covered at medium heat until they're tender, then remove the lid and increase the heat to high until the liquid evaporates to form a syrup; season as you wish (garlic certainly, other herbs as seem right).

You can use this basic technique to start all sorts of dishes — sauces for pasta, first step in risottos, even vegetable stews. I love the combination of artichokes and potatoes, particularly when you bind them with cream and bacon.If you want to be one of the cool kids, the thing to do is serve artichokes raw. I know it sounds weird, and only a couple of years ago, it was almost unheard of.

But they are good if you shave them very, very thin ( 116 inch is noticeably better than 18) and season them aggressively with lemon juice and olive oil. They've got a great crunch and a subtly sweet flavor.Never underestimate an artichoke.

Artichoke and Farro Salad

Total time: About 1 hour

1 12 cups farro

4 12 cups water

Salt

3 tablespoons minced red onion

14 cup fruity olive oil

3 tablespoons lemon juice

4 medium-size artichokes, trimmed to hearts and stored in acidulated water

14 cup lightly packed parsley leaves, some reserved for garnish

Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Toast the farro in a dry medium-size saucepan over medium heat until it smells nutty and turns golden, for about 5 minutes. Add the water and bring to a simmer.

Season with one-half teaspoon salt and cook until the farro is tender, for about 45 minutes. Drain (there will probably still be some liquid left) the farro, rinse it in cold, running water and gently pat it dry in a kitchen towel.

Place the farro in a mixing bowl, add the minced red onion and more salt, if necessary, and set aside. (The dish can be prepared to this point up to a day ahead and refrigerated tightly covered.)

Whisk together the olive oil and lemon juice, and stir it into the farro mixture.

Using a mandoline, shave the artichoke hearts as thin as possible, 18 inch is adequate, 116 inch is better. Add this to the farro mixture along with most of the parsley leaves, and fold together.

Divide the mixture evenly among the serving plates or arrange on a platter.

Use a vegetable peeler to shave over thin strips of Parmigiano-Reggiano (you'll need about 1 ounce), and scatter the remaining parsley leaves over the top.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Artichoke, Bacon and New Potato Stew

Total time: 50 minutes

1 pound new potatoes

2 strips thick bacon, cut into ½-inch crosswise strips

1 tablespoon minced shallots

4 medium-size artichokes, trimmed to hearts and stems, quartered lengthwise and stored in acidulated water

¾ cup water

½ cup cream

Salt

2 tablespoons minced chives

Steam the potatoes until tender, for about 15 minutes, and set aside. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut them into quarters or bite-size pieces.

Fry the cut-up bacon in a dry skillet over medium heat until it is brown, for about 10 minutes. Discard all but about 1 to 2 teaspoons of fat and add the shallots. Cook until the shallots are fragrant and tender, for about 3 minutes.

Add the artichokes and the water, cover tightly, and cook until the artichokes are tender, for 10 to 15 minutes.

Remove the lid, increase the heat to high and cook, stirring, until the liquid has reduced to traces of syrup, for about 5 minutes.

Add the cut-up potatoes and stir to coat them with the juices. Add the cream and salt to taste and continue cooking over high heat until the cream has thickened and reduced enough to coat the potatoes and artichokes lightly, for about 5 minutes.

Remove the potatoes from heat and stir in the minced chives before turning them into a serving bowl.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

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